Mom Debby Elnatan, who's from Israel, felt the same. She had a two-year-old with cerebral palsy, Rotem. A therapist once told her that her child had "no consciousness of his legs." But Debby was determined to get him moving. She also wanted to save her back, which was in pain from guiding him around while she was hunched over or on her knees. She sewed a harness for Rotem that she attached to her body, put him in sturdy sandals that she strapped to her own and started walking around with him. Eventually, they'd cruise their neighborhood leg-in-leg for two hours at a time.
That's how the Upsee came to be. Debby eventually brought a prototype to Leckey, a company based in Lisburn, Ireland that makes positioning equipment for children with special needs. Leckey has a new division called Firefly that focuses on special needs family participation, through which the Upsee is being sold worldwide starting today.
Firefly invited me to the launch of the Upsee at the Leckey factory. That's where I met two-year-old twins Danielle and Charlotte (she has cerebral palsy) and their parents Julie and Cameron Taylor. I watched as Charlotte's entire face lit up when her dad strapped her into the Upsee. "She calls it the 'up,'" her mom told me. "She gets so excited every time she's in it, she doesn't want to come out!"
As you can see, the Upsee is comprised of a hip-belt that wraps around an adult's waist, a child harness that connects to it (it resembles a baby carrier), plus strapped rubber sandals. It's geared toward kids with a maximum weight of 55 pounds; a child's shoulders should be below the adult's belly button. I felt downright awed as I watched Cameron and Charlotte stroll around:
As I watched kids using the Upsee, I kept wishing I'd had one when Max was little.
Left, Claire Smyth and Daniel, 5, who has global developmental delays; Louise Watson and Bethany, 3, who can't walk because of a rare genetic mutation
Debby Elnatan watches Bethany enjoying her invention
So far, the Upsee has been tested by 22 parents and kids in the U.K., U.S., Canada and Israel; it's been in development by Leckey since 2012. The company had a physical therapist and occupational therapist overseeing the parent trials, and hopes to do formal research in the future. All the parents I met on the trip had great experiences with the Upsee, including the wonderful Kara Melissa Sharp of Free as Trees and Stacey Warden of Noah's Miracle, both moms to boys with cerebral palsy.
The Upsee takes some getting used to for parent and child but soon enough, parents say, you get into a rhythm. As Kara wrote over at Bloom about trying the Upsee with Sebastian in their home, "We walked through places that his walker doesn't fit. He saw things from a different perspective. We counted steps and he got excited, picking up the pace a bit. When he tired, we stopped and stood together for a break. As we did so his younger sister came toddling up to him, threw her arms around him and gave him a big bear hug.... She can't hug him when he's in his walker."
The Upsee is $489, including shipping, in the U.S. and Canada. That's 269 UK pounds, and 329 Euros. It comes in four harness sizes (check the sizing guides on Firefly for details).
Some parents who tested the Upsee have noted improvements in weight bearing and step initiation with their kids. It's important to know that this device is not meant to teach kids to independently stand or walk. It's also not a replacement for physical therapy or walkers—it's a mobility tool, and another way for kids to have fun with their families. As Firefly Clinical Research Manager and occupational therapist Clare Canale says, "Ultimately, this is about quality of life and we hope that the Upsee will enhance the lives of children with motor impairment and their families."
We got a tour of the factory; all products are handmade.
Sketches of a product in development
Other key FYIs about the Upsee:
• The Upsee is for kids with developmental delays, hypotonia, ataxia, fluctuating tone, visual impairment, mild to moderate asymmetry and lower-limb muscle weakness.
• The Upsee is not for children with severe high tone; severe asymmetry; severe lower limb contractions; a history of lower-limb fractures; and an unstable medical condition requiring fast repositioning for treatment.
• The Upsee should not be used by pregnant moms or parents with a history of lower back pain.
• Child siblings can't use this—it's for adults only.
• It is not advisable to use the Upsee on stairs.
• If a child wears splints or braces for weight-bearing activities, he should still wear them in the Upsee.
If you're thinking of getting an Upsee, discuss it with your child's physical therapist.
Firefly is generously donating one Upsee to a reader, shipping included. Enter via the Rafflecopter form below, privately leaving your email. You can gain additional entries by leaving a comment, tweeting or posting on Facebook.
The giveaway will be open for three weeks, until April 28, 2014 at 12:00am EST.
Within two business days after the giveaway closes, I will choose a winner and contact the winner. If I do not hear back from the winner within five business days, a new one will be chosen. Once the winner is verified, I will announce it here.
The UpSee will be delivered approximately 12 weeks later. For complete entry terms, see the Rafflecopter form.
Disclosure: Firefly paid for my airfare and accommodations but the opinions expressed here are my own. As with any use of a device for your child, consult a medical professional or professional therapist if you have questions. By entering this giveaway you release the owner/writer of Love That Max from any and all liability for injury or damages that may result from your use of the Firefly Upsee. For any questions about the product, contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo of Upsee: James Leckey Design Ltd.